Josh Hamilton

ALDS Preview: Rays vs. Rangers

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The Teams

Tampa Bay Rays (91-71) vs. Texas Rangers (96-66)

The Rangers won the season series 5-4, outscoring the Rays by 15 runs (41-26).

The Matchups

Game 1 Friday in Texas: Matt Moore vs. C.J. Wilson
Game 2 Saturday in Texas: James Shields vs. Derek Holland
Game 3 Monday in St. Pete: Colby Lewis vs. David Price
Game 4 (if necessary) Tuesday in St. Pete: Matt Harrison vs. Jeremy Hellickson
Game 5 (if necessary) Thursday in Texas: TBD vs. C.J. Wilson

That changes everything. After sending out early indications that Jeff Niemann would start Game 1, the Rays pulled a bit of a stunner Thursday evening by saying Moore, who has just one major league start under his belt, would get the ball.  It’s a gutsy move, but it’s absolutely the right one. He has the better chance of matching up with Wilson than Niemann would. Niemann was 0-2 with an 11.17 ERA against the Rangers this season.

It remains to be seen how much good the Rays’ vaunted pitching depth will do them. Price was struggling a bit even before getting tagged for six runs in four innings by the Yankees on Wednesday. Shields hasn’t been at his best either, though one can imagine him coming back on short rest in Game 5 if he’s effective in Game 2. Hellickson, at least, looks good for Game 4.

Unlike the Rays, the Rangers had plenty of time to set their rotation for the series.  Wilson has a good chance of putting the Rays in an early hole: he had a 1.21 ERA in September and he was 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in three regular-season starts versus Tampa Bay.

Three questions

Will the Rangers use their best lineup?

Manager Ron Washington seems to know now that he needs Mike Napoli in there everyday, and there’s a good chance the Rangers will carry a third catcher to make it easier to use Napoli as a DH when Yorvit Torrealba is catching. Napoli, who would have finished second in the AL in OPS if he had the plate appearances to qualify, hit .407 with three homers in seven games against Tampa Bay this year.

But what about David Murphy? Murphy came through with a .351/.366/.557 month of September, and he hit .393 with a homer and eight RBI in seven games versus the Rays this year. The Rangers should want him in there against right-handers, though that means putting Josh Hamilton in center field and weakening the outfield defense some.

How will the Rangers handle playing the day games?

Of course, the games in The Trop shouldn’t matter (it’s a dome), but the Rangers hit just .265/.324/.409 in day games this year, compared to .290/.346/.481 under the lights. Josh Hamilton’s much publicized problems with the sun resulted in a .220/.302/.317 line. He hit just one homer in 123 at-bats during day games.

Will the Rays get quality bullpen work from their unused starters?

Kyle Farnsworth was effective in all four of his appearances after missing half of September with a sore elbow, so that’s one bullet dodged. He and Joel Peralta will be lined up to get the six most crucial outs when the Rays are leading late. What will be interesting to see is whether Joe Maddon gives the other key innings to holdovers Brandon Gomes and Cesar Ramos or if he tries to work in Davis and Niemann in big situations.

Prediction

The Rangers outscored the Rays by 148 runs this year (855-707), they have the hottest starting pitcher in the series lined up to start twice and I think they possess the edge when it comes to bullpens. Of course, part of that run disparity is the ballparks the teams play in — the Texas offense isn’t really that much better than Tampa Bay’s — and the Rays do have the advantage when it comes to defense, but the Rays’ biggest plus — the fact that they have six quality starters to bring into battle — might not do them a whole lot of good in a short series like this. I think this is the Rangers’ series to lose, and if Price doesn’t bounce back in a big way, it may well be a sweep.

RANGERS WIN THE SERIES 3-0.

The Mets are among six teams that help Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - APRIL 19:  A detailed view of the blackboard with theoretical physics equations in chalk by Alberto Ramos, Theoretical Physics Fellow and visitor, Antonio Gonzalez-Arroyo from the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid (both not in frame) at The European Organization for Nuclear Research commonly know as CERN on April 19, 2016 in Geneva, Switzerland.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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In a special for USA TODAY Sports, Mike Vorkunov details how six teams — the Mets in particular — provide an education program that helps their Dominican prospects earn high school diplomas. It seems like an obvious win-win: smarter players make smarter decisions, making them more likely to achieve their potential as athletes. That, of course, requires spending money, which is why only six teams make the investment. For the players, if baseball doesn’t work out, they are better able to support themselves in other ways.

Vorkunov lists the Pirates, Tigers, Phillies, Diamondbacks, and Mariners as the other teams who provide an education program for their Dominican prospects. We learned earlier this month that the Phillies were also investing in making sure their minor leaguers eat healthy. As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “few teams” supply their minor league players with healthy food options.

Juan Henderson, the head of the Mets’ Dominican academy, said, “We see the benefit of it. I gotta tell you, we’re working with a new generation of baseball players. You see in the past that players just carry a bat and a glove and a helmet on the baseball field and in the academy. Those years, I think, are going to be pretty much over. Now they also do that, but they also carry books, they also carry an iPad, they also carry a laptop.”

Kudos to the six teams for making a great decision and here’s hoping the other 24 teams follow suit.

Video: Albert Pujols hits 569th career home run, tying Rafael Palmeiro

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 22:  Albert Pujols #5 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on May 22, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Angels first baseman Albert Pujols cranked out a two-run home run in the third inning against Rangers starter Derek Holland, breaking a scoreless tie. It’s the ninth homer of the season for Pujols and the 569th of his career, putting him into a tie with Rafael Palmeiro for 12th on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.

Harmon Killebrew is Pujols’ next target at 573, followed by Mark McGwire at 583 and Frank Robinson at 586.

Pujols hadn’t homered since May 13. He entered Monday night hitting a mediocre .228/.309/.395 with eight home runs and 28 RBI in 188 plate appearances.

Alex Gordon to miss three to four weeks with a fractured scaphoid bone

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 22:  Alex Gordon #4 and Mike Moustakas #8 of the Kansas City Royals collide going for a foul ball against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on May 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Royals 3-2.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Monday has unfortunately been a day of injury news. Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is the latest to hit the 15-day disabled list, as he has been diagnosed with a fractured scaphoid bone in his right wrist. The club has recalled infielder Cheslor Cuthbert from Triple-A Omaha.

Gordon suffered the injury colliding with third baseman Mike Moustakas attempting to catch a fly ball on Sunday afternoon. He is expected to miss three to four weeks, MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports.

Gordon was having a tough 2016 campaign and the injury only makes it worse. He’s hitting .211/.319/.331 with four home runs and 10 RBI in 166 plate appearances on the year.

The Royals will likely use Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando in left field in Gordon’s absence.

Orioles trade reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 17:  Brian Matusz #17 of the Baltimore Orioles pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the fifth inning on May 17, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The Orioles announced on Monday night that the club has traded reliever Brian Matusz to the Braves in exchange for minor league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. The Braves are also receiving a Competitive Balance Round B pick (76th overall) in the 2016 draft.

Matusz, 29, made his season debut on April 23 after battling a back injury since early March. It’s been a struggle, as the lefty has yielded eight runs on 11 hits and seven walks with just one strikeout in six innings. He is earning $3.9 million and can become a free agent after the season.

MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reports that the Braves are expected to designate Matusz for assignment. Essentially, the Braves bought the draft pick for Matusz’s remaining salary of $3 million of $3.9 million total.

Barker, 23, has been pitching at Double-A Mississippi after getting a taste of Triple-A last year. So far this season, the right-hander has a 2.00 ERA with a 40/12 K/BB ratio in 45 innings spanning eight starts and a relief appearance.

Belicek, a 23-year-old left-hander, has spent most of the year with Single-A Rome, compiling a 2.49 ERA with a 29/1 K/BB ratio in 25 1/3 innings over 11 relief appearances.